'Steven' putting emotion back in PC market stuck on cost, function

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A dude named "Steven" could help do for the PC market what a sledgehammer-wielding woman did nearly two decades ago.

Apple Computer broke new ground with its 1984 spot for Macintosh. Eighteen years later, the PC has become virtually a household appliance, and advertising has come to reflect that, relying on price and functionality as selling points. But recent efforts show there's still a role for advertising that appeals to consumers' hopes and feelings.

"It's been one of the problems the industry has had: The messaging to date has been more tech- and product-oriented rather than benefits-oriented," says Rob Enderle, a research fellow at Giga Information Group, a technology consultancy. "You don't sell autos based on technology, but on envy, self-image and personal benefits. ... If you ever end a campaign [touting] just the technical aspects of a car, you'd have the Edsel."

"It's become an industry focused on efficiency because price is so important," says Jeff Davis, senior VP-partner at Omnicom Group-owned Fleishman-Hillard, St. Louis. Because all PC marketers have "access to the same components ... it's [now about] branding and it's just good block and tackle creative branding [that will make a difference]. " Service and support are critical, he adds, but the "cool" factor also is more important than ever.


Consumers are savvier and therefore harder to "wow," says Mr. Davis, who worked on Dell Computer Corp. consumer marketing from 1997-2001. "The `gee whiz' factor is gone. So it's all about value now.

"Likability is important now more than ever," Mr. Davis says.

And, the marketer believes, who's more likable in consumer minds than "Steven"?

Dell began a price war in January 2001 in a successful attempt to grab the No. 1 PC market share position (AA, Oct. 8). Then in the fourth quarter, Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Chicago, broke a consumer campaign featuring the quirky character originally developed by Dell's previous agency, Interpublic Group of Cos.' Lowe, New York. The concept seemed to be working, and Dell kept it going even after switching agencies in spring 2001.

"Steven" simplifies Dell's consumer offerings by delivering straightforward, folksy musings on the benefits of a Dell PC and its many peripherals, such as a digital camera and photo printer. DDB added "Steven's" buzz-generating line, "Dude, you're gettin' a Dell."

The "Steven" work is probably the most brand-oriented advertising of the PC marketers. As Pat Dermody, president of integration at DDB, says, " `Steven' has made Dell more approachable in that he is a very human, warm, engaging character."

Direct seller Dell doesn't have stores so the "Steven" advertising helps engage consumers and identify the brand's value. "The `Steven' campaign has been good," says Mr. Enderle, adding " `Steve' is cruder than Apple [ads], but it has an Apple feel to it."

"In the case of Apple," says Needham & Co. securities analyst Charlie Wolf, "they are becoming more of a consumer electronics company."

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